Physical Space

One of the first steps in creating a YOUmedia is designing the physical space. YOUmedia is both safe and welcoming—and youth owned. The site's design should encourage youth to explore digital media and creativity. It should enable youth to work both individually and collaboratively. And it should ultimately give youth a sense that this space belongs to them. Yollocalli Open Studies arts program in Chicago offers an example of how one organization incorporated HOMAGO into their space: http://issuu.com/yollocalli/docs/homagoguidebook

Often, a YOUmedia space is designed with three areas in mind:

  • The Hanging Out area is a relaxed spot where youth can eat (yes—allowing food is a good idea), read, talk with friends, and check Facebook or other social media or email. As its name suggests, it’s a pressure-free introduction to the culture of YOUmedia.

  • The Messing Around area allows youth to tinker with digital media. The space should have a variety of equipment so youth can explore their interests by using laptops, gaming consoles, recording equipment, video and traditional cameras, drawing pads, and more. The goal is to spark an interest.

  • The Geeking Out area offers opportunities to collaborate, participate in workshops, and perform. Most importantly, this space allows youth to expand beyond their initial interests.

To see in more detail how these elements were incorporated into the space design and programming of a current learning lab, please see this presentation by Ryan Hill of Artlab+ at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Sample Floor Plans

Here’s some photos and floor plans of existing spaces. You'll see how much flexibility there is in designing your space.

Now that you have the overview, what about the nitty-gritty? We’ve assembled answers to some common questions to help you think about how to build out a YOUmedia site. If you have more, please ask!

And never forget this important point from teens designing a youth space at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, OH: We need a place to be ourselves, to be better than ourselves, and to figure out ourselves, a place free of boredom and adult agendas, that helps teens figure themselves out through art/music/anything-making.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q What do we look for in a space?

In planning for the physical space, look for a room that can accommodate different phases of learning—so it should be pretty big if possible. Remember, too, that you’ll need a good internet connection and a lot of outlets!

Listen to ARTlab's Ryan Hill discuss some of the considerations in designing a YOUmedia in a museum.

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Q How big should the space be?

Larger is better in many respects, but space sizes vary widely.

ARTlab+, the YOUmedia at the Hirshhorn Museum, measures 1,872 square feet, and is located in the museum’s outdoor sculpture garden. Currently ARTlab+ can only accommodate 50 occupants at one time and is getting too crowded. Because attendance has grown and more room is needed for activities, an additional, permanent ARlab+ space is being built in the lobby of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC.

YOUmedia in Chicago is housed on the ground floor of the Chicago Public Library’s downtown branch and takes up about 5,500 square feet. On the other hand, YOUmedia in some of the city’s branch libraries are much smaller.

When building YOUmedia, it’s important to construct the space so that when kids enter, they can see all the activities that are available to them. In addition, some teens like to find their own private nook, especially at the end of a long and hectic school day. Thus, be sure to have plenty of private areas so that teens can just relax on their own if they choose.

Q How much flexibility do we have?

A lot! The physical YOUmedia space can be any size, but it should be nimble and flexible enough to allow for the various stages of learning—hanging out, messing around, and geeking out. That means you should be able to move furniture around easily, pull tables together, cordon off a space for a quick workshop, or pull the couches together to brainstorm. A wide-open floor plan is often best. It allows for a lot of moving back and forth between interests, and it also lets youth see what’s going on elsewhere.

YOUmedia Chicago's Amy Eshleman discusses how an open space facilitates collaboration and skill-building and allows adults to understand how the space is being used.

And don’t forget—comfortable, sturdy, and attractive furniture is important. And since kids are kids, don’t forget to include assembly, maintenance, and replacement costs when developing your overall budget.

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Q How do we design the physical space for programming?

To answer this question, we went straight to the source. Here's Tim Lord of DreamYard, Ryan HIll of ARTlab+, Amy Eshleman and Nichole Pinkard of YOUmedia at Harold Washington Library in Chicago, and Jennifer Steele of a branch library YOUmedia in Chicago all talking about how they make the most of their space.

Ryan Hill discusses how HOMAGO influenced their Artlab+ space design at the Hirshhorn Museum.

Tim Lord of DreamYard discusses the importance of distinguishing spaces for studio work and for multipurpose work.

Amy Eshleman discusses how HOMAGO comes into play in designing the space at the Harold Washington Library.

Nichole Pinkard discusses how space can be designed to promote youth- and interest-driven programming.

YOUmedia Chicago's Taylor Bayless discusses how YOUmedia spaces differ from classroom spaces and how their programming evolved over time.

YOUmedia Chicago Branch Manager Jennifer Steele offers insights on smaller spaces.

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Q What kind of furniture works best?

In short, comfortable, sturdy, and attractive furniture that is easily moved. Tables on wheels, for example, are a good idea so they can be easily moved around. Moveable wall dividers are also a good idea.

Think also about how to use all the surfaces—walls, ceiling, floors—for exhibits, programming, and inspiration.

Teens at Wexner Center for the Arts, in Columbus, OH, added one more thing: Students must be able to change the space themselves, so modular movable furniture works best.

And because teens are teens, darker upholstery is the best bet to hide wear and tear.

Lesson Learned

At ARTlab+ in Washington DC, their tables have laminate tops with two holes in the tops to allow wiring to fit through and attach to pulleys that come down from the ceiling so that teens can plug in their computers. This set-up works well because it keeps wires off of the floor and enables a greater number of teens to work at the computers. They also use orange plastic chairs, blue desk chairs with ergonomic backs, and large foam rubber sofas. The kids can also relax in large bean bag chairs.

Download the original furniture list [XLS] with pricing information that YOUmedia Chicago started with.

Q How do we incorporate a sound studio?

Sound studios don't take up much space, but you will need a room that can be sound-proofed and separate from the rest of the space. The YOUmedia staff at the Harold Washington Library turned a closet into a recording studio and added soundproofing, a table, power and data for computer hookups. Be sure to soundproof the door as well!

Here's a photo of a recording studio and here's Ryan Hill of ARTlab+ talking about how a sound studio bolsters programming and draws students in:

Q Should lockers be available?

Yes, absolutely. Kids need to be able to safely store their coats, books, and other personal items.

Q Should food be allowed?

Yes. Kids are hungry after school. And it makes for a more convivial atmosphere if teens can grab a snack and discuss projects. Designate a space where food and eating is allowed.

Q Where is the circulation desk and what is its purpose?

The circulation desk is the kitchen table of the YOUmedia space. It is a centerpiece and a first stop for many to find mentors, check out equipment, see familiar faces, and gain a footing in YOUmedia activities. Chicago's Taylor Bayless describes its practical functions and its role in hooking kids into the programs.

* Don’t forget: Digital media need a lot of outlets. Plan ahead!

Q Where is security?

Security should be both visible, but not intimidating. They can be stationed near the door as a check on equipment, but they often also circulate around the room. The kids get to know the security personnel well and are on a first-name basis.

Q Should storage be available?

Storage will definitely be necessary. Equipment will need storage with security overnight (although it should be open and accessible during operating hours).

Q Is noise an issue?

Noise can indeed be an issue. This is a hands-on doing and making space after all. Most teens tone it down when asked. At YOUmedia Chicago, staff keep tabs on the volume level and frequently ask teens to turn down the music or talk a little more quietly. If a teen does not comply, he or she will first be given a warning, and then subsequently asked to leave the center.

A teen at Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, OH, had a good idea. She suggested that sites build in the ability to choose between quiet and active environments.

In this video, a Chicago branch library YOUmedia leader discusses how they manage the noise in a library setting.

Q How often do we have to replace equipment?

This will depend on wear and tear and types of programming in each space. The longest-running YOUmedia to date has yet, since opening in summer 2009, to replace the furniture. However, all the couches and chairs have been reupholstered. The fabric on the couches and chairs was replaced with a darker and much more durable fabric.

Equipment is another matter, as digital media equipment can break, laptops have a relatively short lifespan, and software is regularly updated. Budgeting for regular replacement is a smart idea.

Q What are lessons learned about designing and using space?

We put that question to three YOUmedia leaders, and they each had a different take.

YOUmedia Chicago's Brother Mike Hawkins talks about how programming can flow from one space to the next and how open sightlines across project areas can spark interest among youth.

DreamYard's Tim Lord reminds viewers that effective use of the space will take longer than you think and how important it is to listen to young people, staff, and parents to design a space that meets your needs.

Amy Eshleman looks back on the planned, and the organic, HOMAGO zones at YOUmedia Chicago.

Mentors at the Wexner Center for the Arts put the question to students. During the summer of 2012, ten teens spent two weeks collaborating on what a teen-focused space should look and feel like. How to design a space, by students at the Wexner Center for the Arts [pdf]

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